Five ways to stop feeling self-conscious about drawing graphs

I teach students from a wide range of backgrounds — from kids who do part-time jobs to earn enough for their tuition money, to kids whose parents run banks, from the shyest and most introverted teenagers, to students so brash they sign autographs. Some of them can barely count, while others stretch my knowledge to the limits. I’ve worked with six-year-olds and 60-year-olds, students from Utah to Taiwan and from Scotland to Switzerland. There’s virtually nothing they all have in common.

Except for this: they all hate drawing graphs.

If you’re here, you probably do, too. I always did, until I learned to get over my self-consciousness and just draw the bloody things. Here are five things I did to sort myself out.

1) It’s not for the Sistine Chapel.

Any graph you draw is going to be for the eyes of at most two people: you, and whoever is marking your work. It’s not going to be displayed in front of massing throngs of tourists who’ll seek out your signature and sneer at each other saying ‘not one of Jones’s finer efforts, his earlier work made much better use of line.’

Your graphs don’t have to be National Gallery standard — just good enough to show your teacher, or the examiner, you know how to cook.

2) No graph is perfect.

Frankly, we have machines that can draw immaculate graphs in fractions of second these days. Anything you or I do is going to look rubbish by comparison, so we may as well embrace it and say this:

A sketch is more than good enough.

If you have the basic shape of the graph right, a rough idea of where it crosses the axes and the turning points, you’re going to be all right. Don’t worry about making it perfect, just make it good enough.

3) You can throw numbers in if you’re not sure.

You remember at GCSE when you were given a table of x-values and had to fill in all the y-values according to a formula? There’s absolutely nothing to stop you doing that in your exam. You’ve got y = 2/x? Try putting x = 1 in and plot (1,2). Then x = 2, and plot (2, 1). Try x = 1,000, y = 2/1,000, which is a very small positive number. It’s starting to take shape.

It’s time-consuming, I know — and one of the reasons people don’t like drawing graphs — but if you can’t be bothered to learn the four or five shapes you’re supposed to grok for the exam, you may as well do it the hard way.

4) These are free marks

So: nobody likes drawing graphs. That means, if you can pick up any marks here, these are marks that many other students _won’t_ be getting, which will bump you up the grades.

When you start a C1 exam, you can expect somewhere from 10 to 15 marks to be related to graphs. You go into the exam with none of those. If you pick some of them up — that’s a bonus. If you pick all of them up — that’s a long way towards your target grade.

5) It’ll serve you well

If you can get on top of the graphs in C1, it’ll make all of the other modules easier — you need the basics of drawing graphs in all three of the core modules, and the applied modules are generally a bit easier if you can draw graphs:

  • D1 needs graphs for linear programming
  • M1 needs graphs for velocity/time graphs
  • S1 needs graphs for the normal distribution

So there you go. Get over your fear of graphs and it’ll earn you scads of marks through your A-level. So get learning.

Colin

Colin is a Weymouth maths tutor, author of several Maths For Dummies books and A-level maths guides. He started Flying Colours Maths in 2008.

He lives with an espresso pot and nothing to prove.

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I teach in my home in Abbotsbury Road, Weymouth.

It's a 15-minute walk from Weymouth station, and it's on bus routes 3, 8 and X53. On-road parking is available nearby.

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